You can always count on several things from Soundsmith: rich, luscious, extremely seductive sound (especially from the moderately romantic Strain Gauge cartridge/phono preamp), and a flashing light show from multiple components that is curiously at odds with the refinement of most of the vinyl Peter Ledermann plays.
Madisound, a speaker kit company based in Madison, Wisconsin, demmed a full range of loudspeakers that starts with the recession-buster RB3 ($445/pair). Playing at the time I visited was the astounding for the price Zaph Audio floorstander (with the black face$1559). Equipped with two Scanspeak drivers, and powered by the Fountek Altitude 3500 23Wpc integrated amp ($1350), the system delivered impressively smooth, full-range sound on a stellar Chesky CD from vocalist Rosa Passos and bassist Ron Carter.
In addition to his enormously impressive hi-rez surround-sound dem mentioned earlier in this report, Mark Waldrep of AIX Records and iTrax.com gave a well-attended seminar on all three Show days explaining how a computer can be used as a valid source in a high-end audio system and demystifying HD music.
As I entered a large room filled with May Audio's CDs and LPs, the dynamic duo of Jay Paul Apodaca (right) and Carlos Peniche (left) was dashing between two impressive systems set up at the other end. I was quite impressed with the large and exciting soundstage thrown by the setup whose power came from a Mastersound Evolution 845 integrated amp ($15,000). This pure class-A, 50Wpc amp uses two 845 tubes per side. For the uninitiated, and that includes me, the Italian Mastersound company first began manufacturing transformers 50 years ago.
Michael Lacomba of Southern Cinema, with stores in Cumming, GA and St. Augustine, FL, was having a great time demming several joyful systems that combined tried and true with fresh and new. Almost as fresh and new as Michael, who at age 26 laments, "People my age don't know this stuff exists." Not that Steve Davis and the small and dedicated Axpona crew didn't do everything possible publicity-wise to bring in a fair amount of curious collegiates, some of whom were actually heard to mutter, "I'm going to have to rethink my whole iPod thing after hearing this."
After much too long a hiatus, Stereophile again pierced the digital shield with the return of its “Meet the Editors” panel. Although a poorly publicized schedule shift from Friday to Saturday afternoon diminished attendance in the seminar room, those present asked about everything from Stereophile's influence on the High End and integrity amongst audiophile publications to our favorite rooms at the show. While an objective report is impossible as far as I know, there are no prices on our heads that we can listit's fair to say that attendees got a pretty good sense of who we are as both dedicated listener/reviewer/critics and as human beings. Seen in the photo are (left to right): senior editor Michael Fremer, editor John Atkinson, and yours truly.
Stereophile senior editor Michael Fremer hosted two turntable set-up seminars at Axpona, explaining how to optimally install and set-up a phono cartridge and tonearm for lowest distortion and best sound. He did a great job of demystifying an arcane subject; for those who couldn't attend Axpona, you can see an expanded version of the seminar on his DVD 21st Century Vinyl, available from this website.
Audio Plus Services, Toronto, distributes a luscious batch of products that includes Pathos, Focal, Cambridge Audio, MicroMega, Crystal cable, Siltech cable, and Solid Tech racks. At Axpona, throwing aesthetics to the dogs in an attempt to tame the room, APS's Ian McArthur sent files wirelessly from his Macbook Pro or a PC running the Airfoil utility via the MicroMega WM-10 Airstream wireless receiver ($1595) to the Pathos TT Anniversary 35W class-A hybrid integrated amp ($7695) and Focal-JM Lab Electra 1028BE loudspeakers ($8495/pair). Cabling was Crystal Cable Reference for both interconnect ($2400/1m) and speaker cable ($7500/3m), and the industrial-look rack was Solid Tech ROS Reference 3 ($1495). The Airstream basically incorporates a self-configuring WiFi router to feed audio data (limited to Red Book at present) to its DAC. Although use of iTunes as the media server, without benefit of either the Amarra or Channel D's Pure Music interfaces, undoubtedly contributed to a lack of transparency, cellos sounded extremely deep and solid, and Marta Gomez's debut CD on Chesky (played directly from the computer's CD drive without benefit of burning) was rewardingly crisp and extremely fast.
Mistral, a registered trademark in the UK and China, is a Chinese company, based near Canton, that began marketing its audio products overseas in 2002. According to their PR, they are recognized "all over the world for creativity, reliability and credibility." Judging from the rest of their written copy, they must believe that their credibility is so strong that they can dispense with the services of a bilingual writer with a firm command of English grammar.
Roy Hall's Music Hall was showing several nifty little systems. Making its official debut as well as show debut, the Creek Audio Evolution 5350 Integrated amplifier ($1795), which has been around for perhaps a decade in various proven incarnations, was sending its 120Wpcs into 8 ohms signal from the Creek Destiny CD player ($2495) into the handsomely slim (were we all only as. . .) Epos M22i loudspeakers ($2599/pair). This system was uncompromising in its portrayal of brash rock as exactly that. No euphonic roll-off or soft-pedaling allowed! Switch to the Oscar Peterson Trio, and you'll hear a very different, sweet sound on piano and bass.
To anyone who has committed my blogs to memory, or treated them with the same reverence as passages from the Bible, my love for mbl speakers and electronics will come as no surprise. Listens at CES 2010, RMAF 2009, and CES 2009 left me in awe. If only the newest mbl speakers on the market had been on active rather than static display, I expect I'd be waxing ecstatic once again.
Since the first Show in which I was involved in the organization (the 1981 Hi-Fi News Show at London's Heathrow Airport), I have arranged a program of seminars where Showgoers can be entertained and also learn more about the theoretical aspects of audio. Axpona was no exception, and for the very first seminar after the Show opened on Friday afternoon, my guests were Mark Waldrep of AIX and iTrax.com (left) and legendary mastering engineer Bob Katz, of Chesky fame and many others (right). We spent 75 minutes talking about the advent of the computer as a high-end audio source, the sonic advantages of high-resolution audio, and the sonic limitations of lossy compression. My thanks to Mark and Bob for taking part, and also to Michael Fremer, Jason Serinus, Jim Smith, John MacDonald, Dick Diamond, and Bill Dudleston for giving up some of their time at Axpona to talk to Showgoers at these seminars.
I almost missed the Nightingale display. The first time I tried to enter the room, there were so many people involved in post-listening conversation that I skipped it. Happily, the Axpona organizers alerted me to my omission, enabling me to leave the show on a high note. And once I took a listen, I understood why people were spending so much time discussing what they heard.
Sonist of Studio City, CA was touting the premier of the Recital 3 all-wood floorstanders ($2195/pair), with a lower-price black textured finish model ($1795/pair) also available. . Featuring a 6" woofer and ribbon tweeter, the 8 ohm speaker has 93dB sensitivity, and a frequency response of 45Hz40kHz. Audience and Cardas parts point to high quality. Shown next to the larger Concerto 3 ($4195/pair with all-wood cabinets, otherwise $3495 and reviewed by Art Dudley in April 2009), the Recital 3 is an 8 ohm, 95dB-sensitivity speaker with a frequency response of 30Hz40kHz. Current production of the Concerto 3 has fixed the cabinet resonance problem JA found in our review.